Supermassive backhole detector ready for business

Construction of the world’s largest and most powerful observatory designed to detect and analyze gamma rays has been completed in Mexico. Gamma ray particles are considered the most energetic in the universe and scientists hope to use the observatory to learn more about the supernovas and black holes that produce them. Ben Gruber reports.

SIERRA NEGRA VOLCANO,MEXICO (REUTERS AND NASA) – Sitting at the foot of a volcano in Mexico, this facility looks like a water treatment plant. In fact, it’s one of the largest and most powerful observatories ever built on Earth.

Unlike optical observatories that use telescopes to study planets and stars, the High Altitude Cherenkov Experiment – or HAWC – detects high energy cosmic particles to unravel the mysteries of black holes and supernovas.

HAWC is able to track where gamma rays originated, no matter how many light years away.

To do that it utilizes these tanks, each filled with 50,000 gallons of pure water. Detectors at the bottom of each tank measure the angle and intensity of a flash of light produced when highly charged particles impact the tank at a velocity faster than the speed of light.


“We’ve been interested for a long time in gamma rays. They are meant to point back at space differently. Gamma ray points go straight, they’re light, but they’re highest energy light so they let us understand where the highest energy particles in the Universe come from. So our idea is to build this observatory to give us a wide field view of the sky at the highest energy.”

That is Dr. Jordan Goodman, a physicist working at the observatory. He says that thanks to the Earth’s rotation and HAWC’s size, the gamma ray hunter will be able to cover two thirds of the sky within a 24-hour period. The scientists hope that by determining and mapping the origin of gamma rays, they can learn more about great cosmic events that produce them.